Conversely, you can slam your opponent for being a money waster who couldn't care less about bringing down the debt. Everything is scaled for the big picture. Micro-management is dialed down to non-existence. Most of the game is spent going from state to state hammering away on the top issues in each locality through speeches, ads, and dropping in operatives to move the numbers. The end result is a relaxed (if always tense in the closing weeks of the campaign) pick-up-and-play style of game that has you hitting the campaign trail within minutes of wrapping up the game installation.
If you ever wondered how a political ad opposing a reduction in unemployment would go over, here's your chance to find out!
But it is all very, very familiar. The 2012 game is just a facelift on the 2008 model. A few new candidates have been dropped in to better reflect the top names on the circuit today. Mitt Romney makes an appearance, for instance, as do Michelle Obama, Al Franken, Michelle Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich. Strangely, though, historical presidents have been deleted from the roster. So say goodbye to winning in 2012 with Teddy Roosevelt.
The campaign has also been removed, which is a huge loss because this ladder-style progression of challenges to win the White House was one of the most enjoyable parts of both earlier Political Machine games. Fantasy scenarios from 2008 that let you fight an election in Europe or in the alien capital of the evil Drengin Empire (ported over from Stardock's Galactic Civilization franchise) have also been taken out.
A sobering warning for us all.
Political issues are the only real additions of substance. Most of the biggest talking points in 2012 have been put in place, so now you're battling over Obamacare, a military strike on Iran, bank bailouts, and so forth. None of this makes any serious difference to the gameplay itself, though. If you have any experience with the 2008 game, you will find that campaigns become quite predictable in short order. Some of the words have changed, but that's about it. Other core components of the game haven't been altered at all. TV interviews, for instance, take place with the same shows and pundits. 60 Seconds interviews are conducted by the spitting image of the late Mike Wallace, and you still chat with Barry King on a talk show, even though the program it's based on is now off the air.
Bugs are another matter. Getting the game to run in full-screen mode, or to scale properly when windowed, can be an unfortunate issue. To get the game screen fully shown, you might need to drop the resolution considerably. This can be worked around, but other bugs have no such ready solution. Crashes might occur, and frame rates frequently slow to a crawl after you have gone a fair number of turns into a campaign, making the game unplayable until you quit and restart.
Montana finally secedes from the Union.
Just as a jaded Beltway insider says every four years, there isn't anything here that you haven't seen before. Gameplay in The Political Machine 2012 is still addictive enough to get at least a few election runs out of you, but the lack of any sort of design evolution since 2008 is disappointing. Stripping out some features and letting quality control lapse to the point that bugs have slipped through into the release code is also annoying. Yet the price is right at just $10, and the selection of new issues and candidates lets you stay current as the race heats up going into the November election.